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Pain management

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Living with a health condition that causes frequent or persistent (ongoing) pain can be exhausting and distressing. You may find that you avoid doing certain things in case they trigger an attack of pain or make it worse, or that you feel very tired, run-down, irritable, anxious or depressed from battling on through the pain every day. You may have trouble sleeping or finding a comfortable position to rest in, or have difficulty with everyday tasks.  

Some people also find it tempting to use alcohol or drugs as a way of coping with pain. It may feel that this is helping in the short-term but you are likely to be creating other problems for yourself in the longer term.

While you may be receiving medical treatment for the underlying causes of your pain, it's also important to treat the pain itself, and to reduce its impact on your day-to-day life. There are a number of different approaches to treating pain, depending on its cause and severity, which you should discuss with your doctor.

Pain medications (analgesics) like ibuprofen and paracetamol are for use with occasional pain and are readily available in chemists and supermarkets. They can be very effective in treating mild to moderate pain such as headaches or muscle pain. For muscle and joint pain you can also get pain-relieving gels and sprays which are applied to the skin of the affected area.

If you need a stronger medication your pharmacist may be able to give you some different pain medications over the counter, such as codeine and paracetemol tablets. The pharmacist will ask you some questions about your condition and any other medications you are taking to make sure these medicines are right for you.

If you keep taking over-the-counter pain medication for any length of time then talk to your doctor if you have not already done so.

Your GP or hospital doctor is also able to prescribe a wide range of pain medications. When you go to discuss your pain with your doctor, it's useful to describe not only the location and severity of the pain, but also how it's affecting your life - for example lack of sleep, changes in mood, or being unable to bend or stretch to do everyday household tasks. This will help the doctor to understand how best to treat your pain. He may offer tablets, injections, or suggest other therapies or procedures. 

When taking any medications for pain, make sure you follow the instructions carefully. Don't be tempted to 'double up' dosages or take more than one sort of pain killer at a time unless recommended by your doctor, as this can damage your health. If you do take too much of a painkiller, seek medical help. 

If you have trouble taking your medication, or would like to find out more about what you are taking, then take a look at our Taking your medication page.

Physiotherapy can be helpful in a number of chronic pain conditions. This involves physical manipulation of the body, including massage, stretching and exercises, to help to reduce inflammation or tension that may be the cause of the pain. You can ask your doctor for a referral to a physiotherapist, or see a private physiotherapist or massage therapist who specialists in chronic pain conditions.

Always consult your GP if you are worried about pain in any way.

TENS stands for 'transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation'. This simply means that an electrical current is passed through the affected area, which stimulates the nerves and temporarily interferes with their ability to transmit pain signals to the brain. It's particularly effective for lower back pain. You can buy TENS machines from a number of retailers, or your doctor may be able to arrange for the loan of one.

Always consult your GP if you are worried about pain in any way.

If you have a condition which causes ongoing pain, the thought that it might not go away, or that you will be stuck with it for long periods of time, can be frightening and overwhelming. You may find that counselling will help you deal with your feelings.

While the pain you feel is very real, how you think and feel about your condition can make it worse. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) works by helping you to manage your pain better by changing how you think about your condition.

Studies have shown that people who have had CBT later reported lower levels of pain. They were also more likely to remain active and take regular exercise, further reducing the severity of their symptoms.

If your pain is persisting and is getting you down then talk to your GP about the types of counselling on offer.

Always consult your GP if you are worried about pain in any way.

Some people find that alternative therapies are helpful in managing and treating pain. Consider the following therapies but always talk to your GP before first to make sure that they are right for you, and that they will not accidentally make your pain condition worse:-

The General Osteopathic Council allows you to search for osteopaths in your area

Chiropractic therapy
The British Chiropractic Association allows you to search for chiropractors in your area

The British Acupuncture Council allows you to search for acunpuncturists in your area

The Hypnotherapy Directory allows you to search for qualified hypnotherapists in your area.

Always consult your GP if you are worried about pain in any way.

The NHS website provides advice on all the options available to help you manage your pain.

The British Pain Society provide advice to patients on pain management, including leaflets on different types of pain.

You may find it useful to look at our separate page on lower back pain.

Easy ReadThe Easy Healthwebsite has gathered together various easy-read leaflets which will help people with learning disabilities to understand more about back pain.

Last updated: 02/07/2021